PUEBLO, Colo. – Two years ago, Braden Richardson was sitting in a recliner in his family’s Jasper, Texas, home unsure if he would ever be able to ride bulls again.
Fast forward to this week and the 20-year-old is trying to work his way toward a dream that he once thought was all but over after he broke his back during his senior year of high school.
Richardson is one of 10 riders competing at the BlueDEF Bucking Madness Boot Camp this week at Cody Lambert’s Bowie, Texas, ranch.
The 10 riders, which are being dubbed the Mad 10, are fighting for one of five spots for the BlueDEF Velocity Tour event in Cleveland, Ohio on Sept. 19. The top two performers from that event will be given automatic bids to the BlueDEF Velocity World Finals on Oct. 9-10 in Louisville, Kentucky.
Richardson, who earned the most fan votes during the selection process, broke his back in the spring of 2013 while competing at the Texas High School Rodeo Association Region 5 Finals. He was in the running for a regional championship and had already locked up a bid for the state finals.
“I landed right on the top of my neck and broke my back,” Richardson recalled Monday while driving to Bowie. “I got bucked off and thrown like 14-feet in the air, but they didn’t carry me out of the arena. I walked out myself and I didn’t want to go to the hospital.”
Richardson eventually did go to the hospital and he was diagnosed with a T9 fracture.
One of his best friends – Cooper Davis – was one of the first ones to make it to the hospital.
Davis, currently 19th in the world standings, and Richardson grew up together in Jasper and have been close friends since middle school.
“I wasn’t there when he got hurt, but I got to the hospital pretty quick,” Davis said. “It was a rough deal. He is pretty small.”
Doctors told Richardson, who actually broke his neck two years earlier, he didn’t have to get surgery, but that his bull riding future would be determined by how his bones healed.
Richardson eventually returned to competition last year at Panola College, where he is still a member of the rodeo team.
However, he was once again struck by the injury plague when he broke his jaw at a jackpot rodeo.
“I was only able to enter three college rodeos because I was hurt all year,” he said. “I broke my jaw in the first semester and had to have it wired shut. I think I have two missing teeth and about four or five chipped teeth in my mouth right now. I had to drink through a straw for about five weeks. It was probably the most painful injury I have been through, just not being able to eat.”
A broken neck, back and jaw are some of the major injuries that have slowed Richardson in the past five years.
It is why Davis believes the Western sports world has yet to see his childhood friend competing professionally alongside him.
“Bull riding came really natural for both him and I, but when you put that on top of hard work and everything like that, sooner or later it is going to pay off and I think you are going to see him up here,” Davis said.
During their junior year, the two friends finished first and second at regionals.
“Shoot that kid tries harder than most guys I know and gets it done most times,” Davis said. “He is back and he is riding really good. He just hasn’t traveled much. He has been going to open bull ridings and college rodeos.”
Davis joked that he couldn’t stand Richardson when they were little kids, but that the two became closer around sixth grade.
In fact, Davis believes he used Richardson’s bull rope when he attempted his first steer at 13 years old.
“Basically, he is my little brother,” said Davis, who is one year older. “We grew up together and started riding bulls together. I have to give him a little credit for starting my career off.”
The two continued to get close over the years and they would drive to school together and played football together at Jasper High School.
“We were together 24/7,” Davis said.
The two went to various bull riding schools together, such as a bull riding school where J.W. Harris, one of the guest coaches this week in Bowie, helped mold both of their careers.
While Harris taught Davis how to spur properly, the four-time PRCA champion worked with Richardson on riding better with his knees.
“I just started entering the junior bull ridings and I couldn’t grab a hold and they would just jerk me down and split my chin open,” Richardson said. “J.W. Harris saw that and he put me on the buckey and this robo bull and he and Clayton Foltyn showed me how to squeeze. It was a little awkward at first, but once I started doing it every time I nodded my head it started becoming a habit.”
Richardson is looking forward to working more with J.W. Harris this week and he is also excited to work alongside two-time World Champion Justin McBride.
The goal is to hopefully do enough where he will receive a shot to compete in Cleveland.
“I just need to stay confident,” Richardson said. “It is a great opportunity to be with those great guys up there. I am just going to try my best and take it all in.”
Ultimately, he would like to one day be back alongside Davis.
“I talk to him throughout the week and just seeing him be successful in the PBR pushes me to want to be better and it really motivates me because I want to be up there with him,” Richardson concluded. “I would like to be pulling his rope up there and I would like him pulling my rope up there.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
© 2015 PBR Inc. All rights reserved.